"If you drop your rifle you had better hit the ground before it does!"
These instructions from a career infantry sergeant, a veteran of two wars wearing the same cap-badge as Semrau to my motley platoon of recruits, capture the essence of the Semrau killing. While somewhat hyperbolic, the quote nonetheless demonstrates the rite of military honour that requires one to own-up to their fuck-up without prompt. Hitting the floor for push-ups is a symbolic echo of ancient times where commanders voluntarily fell on their swords for their failures on the battlefield. It also gently set the standard of responsibility expected of us.
There is no room for self-interested careerism* in this ethic. The standard of leadership and responsibility demand that the recruit immediately assume responsibility for their actions and voluntarily adopt the required punishment without further consideration of what this might imply for them personally. The cause of the falling rifle matters not a whit. Whether it was due ccident or neglect on your part was irrelevant to the principle.
But this standard, when it really counts, seems to be rarely met. We did not see it when the two US F-16 pilots ignored their rules of engagement and killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight at Tarnack Farms. The American pilots involved did not hit the ground. Instead, they fought the charges, made excuses and rationales, and protested their responsibility. It was that part of the event more than anything else that disgusted me. In my view, the standard of leadership demanded that Umbach and Schmidt immediately declare themselves in error and offer themselves the mercy of the investigators and military justice system. Anything shy of that is self-interested cowardice.
With regard to our own former Second Lieutenant Semrau (he is now demoted and struck off) two factors come up. First, as our Rev and others have mentioned, he violated our own well known and established laws of war by executing the wounded insurgent. Every member of the Canadian Forces passing their basic training is taught the Geneva Conventions and knows that what he did was illegal. As an officer Semrau had a duty to demonstrate that standard.
Second, assuming the best and that Semrau honestly felt that he was utterly compelled to shoot the insurgent, he would have also known that by squeezing the trigger, he was breaking the core law of war he is duty-bound to uphold. The standard of leadership I learned 15 years ago required that upon shooting the wounded man, Semrau immediately acknowledge that contradiction and surrender himself in full confession to the required authority. Instead, like our American pilots, he sought to defend and justify his actions and thereby avoid punishment.
He is, in my view, demonstrably unwilling to take responsibility for his convictions and the actions stemming from them. He put his own personal wellbeing ahead of the standard set by his Regiment, Service and Nation.
I am appalled that the military allowed him an honourable dismissal that permits him to attempt to rejoin. I have witnessed people receive more punitive dismissals for much less. I shall be more appalled if they let him back.
* I would love to see the word "career" stricken from the lexicon, especially in reference to anything to do with leadership. Leadership, in my view, requires that you acknowledge that one day you might have have to fall on your sword. That word reeks of self-interest and implies that you might screw over others to get ahead.